Karma here and now in a Mulasarvastivada avadana'. How the Bodhisattva changed sex and was born as a female 500 times
This article presents an avadana excerpt found in Samathadeva’s Abhidharmakosopayika-tlka. The tale reports a monk’s change of sex to female, followed by five hundred successive births as a woman, all of which happened as the karmic result of having addressed his fellow monks as women. The avadana identifies this monk, who is introduced as a reciter of the Tripitaka, with the Bodhisattva in a past life. The story of the past serves to explain why the Buddha’s advice was disregarded by the quarrelling monks of Kausambi, who were involved in a dispute over a minor issue of monastic discipline. The present study locates this unsourced avadana in its broader textual context, suggesting the possibility of its placement in a no longer extant Mulasarvastivada Ksudraka-pitaka. It then explores the question of a ‘gendered evaluation’ of karmic retribution, as well as the significance of a change of sex to female (and eventually back to male). This change reportedly took place when the Bodhisattva was already on the path to Buddhahood and had generated the bodhicitta, his resolve to reach full awakening.
Samathadeva’s Abhidharmakosopdyika-tika is a sourcebook for the canonical quotations in Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakosabhasya. The text is extant in a Tibetan translation included in the Tanjur, stemming from a tradition of Mulasarvastivada affiliation.
The Abhidharmakosopdyika-tika contains altogether five quotations of or references to avaddnax The quotation under study in the present article (numbered Up 4069) expands on the story, briefly mentioned in the Abhidharmakosabhasya^ chapter on the elucidation of karma, of a monk who suffers a sex change for having insulted his fellow sangha members. The monk had made himself guilty of sanghastrivadasamuddcdra, that is, the behaviour of calling other monks women, which he had done out of anger. The episode serves as an example of the workings of presently effective karma or karma to be experienced here and now (drstadharmavedanlyakarma). The relevant discussion in the Abhidharmakosabhasya reads:
[Question:] Then, what kind of action should be understood as to be experienced here and now?[Answer:] An action [that brings] a fruit here and now by virtue of the distinctive nature of its field and its proclivity.
An action [of the type whose fruit is] to be experienced here and now occurs either by virtue of the distinctive nature of its field - for example, it is just as what has been heard about a transformation of [[[Wikipedia:sexual|sexual]]] attributes due to the behaviour of calling those in the [[[monks]]’] community women - or else by virtue of the distinctive nature of its proclivity - just as, for example, there is [the obtaining of] virility for a eunuch from desiring to free bulls from castration (lit. ‘emasculation’).
In the Abhidharmakosavyakhya Yasomitra elaborates on sanghastrivadasamudacdra by reporting that a monk, just defeated in a legal procedure, had insulted the sangha saying: “You are all women” (striyo yuyam). Thus for this monk the presently effective karma had led to the disappearance of the male (sexual) characteristic and the manifestation of the female (sexual) characteristic, this being, more specifically, a case of presently effective karma by virtue of the distinctive quality of the karmic field represented by the Buddhist sangha, which had been the target of his insult. That is, the high ‘karmic ranking’ of the Buddhist monastic community was the determining factor for the immediate ripening of the bad karma.
Samathadeva provides additional details on the incident of the monk’s sanghastrtvada- samudacara by presenting the event as a past life remembered by the Buddha, who relates this avadana to his monks. Here I translate his citation from the bhdsya, followed by the narrative.
Translation of Up 40696
"Just as. for instance, when addressing the community of monks as ‘women’.” On the occasion when the words of the Fortunate One were dismissed by the monks of KausambT for three times, [other] monks enquired of the Buddha, the Fortunate One. the one who eliminates all doubts: "Because of what kind of action performed by the Tathagata. due to the ripening of what action, has the Fortunate One’s wholesome speech, beneficial speech, counsel fit to be accepted, been rejected for three times by the monks of Kausambi?”.
The Fortunate One explained: "Monks, [the result of the accumulation of deeds is to be received by the Tathagata himself, the conditions have ripened - persisting almost like a flood - and surely have to be experienced. Who else would experience the deeds that were earlier performed and accumulated? Monks, the deeds that are performed and accumulated do not ripen in the exterior earth element, water element, fire element and wind element. On the contrary, the deeds that are performed and accumulated, be they good or bad, ripen in the aggregates, the elements and the sense bases that are appropriated. Not even in hundreds of millions of aeons
Monks, in the bygone past, a Tathagata. an arhat, a Rightly Fully Awakened One. accomplished in knowledge and conduct, a Well Gone One. a knower of the world, an unsurpassed leader of those to be disciplined, a teacher of gods and humans, a Buddha, a Fortunate One, a Rightly Fully Awakened One by the name of Ajita had appeared in the world. At that time I was engaged in the practice of a bodhisattva, being the son of a wealthy man. When the intention for unsurpassed awakening arose. I went forth. Having gone forth, I became versed in the Tripitaka.9 Afterwards, there occurred a litigation in the community of monks. I caused the litigation to increase more and more.1" Eventually, I was expelled by a monk reciter of the sutras," and the litigation was settled. I addressed the community of monks [saying:] ‘Is this not women’s way of settling a quarrel?’. On account of that deed of abusive speech my male faculty vanished and the female faculty appeared.
For five hundred births I continued to be bom as a woman until femaleness was reversed through the power of the Rightly Fully Awakened One Ratnasikhin and I regained maleness.12 At that time, on that occasion, when I was the son of a wealthy man and practicing as a bodhisattva, in spite of having become versed in the Tripitaka, I spoke abusively to the monastic community. On account of that deed, [now] the monks of Kausambi dismissed my words for three times.” The same is versified in a story in the *Bahubuddha-avadana of the *Ksudrakcr. “Afterwards [in the dispensation] of the Buddha Ajita
I became versed in the Tripitaka.
When [there was] a litigation in the community of monks
I called the [[[Wikipedia:male|male]]] monastic community women.
By performing a deed of abusive speech,
I got into the condition of being a woman.
And, once again, by virtue of a faithful mind,
[Later] I changed back into the male state.”
A Mulasarvastivada Ksudrakcr. tracing the source of the avadana
At the conclusion of the quoted excerpt, Samathadeva states that the same subject is found in verse in a story located in the sangs rgyas mang po ’i rtogs pa brjod pa, a *Bahubuddha- avadana (?) of the Ksudraka (phran tshegs))3 The term rtogs pa brjodpa, which I have rendered above as ‘story’, literally means the ‘presentation’ or ‘account’ of ‘(spiritual) realisations’, that is, an account of the heroic actions of its protagonist(s); normally it denotes an avadana but it may also refer to a jataka)4 This reference could be to a passage located in a Ksudraka-pitaka or Ksudraka-agama transmitted by Mulasarvastivada reciters or else in the Ksudraka section of the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya in the recension to which Samathadeva had access.
Both options would be in theory possible in view of the natural placement of such an avadana within a Vinaya narrative or in a Ksudraka scriptural collection that would be open to the inclusion of avaddna-type material. Considering Samathadeva’s concern with providing canonical sources, it is to be expected that - unless otherwise indicated - the avadana should be located somewhere in a Tripitaka rather than a narrative collection not included in it. (Here I use the term ‘canonical’ as a shorthand for texts included in the Tripitaka collection Samathadeva relied upon. In this I follow along the lines of the Buddhist tradition’s own recognition of Tripitaka(s) as ‘the canon’ of the Buddha’s Word recited and collected at the First SarigTti.)
The avadana recorded by Samathadeva explains the Buddha’s present inability to settle the quarrel that had broken out among the monks of KausambT, who ignored the Buddha’s admonition. Other known versions of the story of the Kausambi quarrel are obvious options in an attempt to locate a possible parallel to the avadana excerpt in the Abhidharmakoso- payika-tika, yet a comparable narrative is not found in any of them. Nevertheless, the story of the quarrel does involve, in some of its versions, another tale of a past life of the Buddha. Several Vinaya and discourse versions report how a crown prince forgave the cruel killing of his father by another king who had conquered their kingdom.1 This is the story of Prince ‘Long Life’ or ‘Long Lived’ (DTghayu or DTghavu in Pali, corresponding to Sanskrit DTr- ghayus). In most versions of the account of the Kausambi quarrel this functions as a parable to instil an attitude of patience.10 In the Pali Jataka collection and in a Chinese jataka compilation it takes the form of a past life of the Buddha. These two versions, however, disagree on whom they identify with the Bodhisattva.
Regardless of such variations, the presence of this jataka in connection with the KausambT quarrel testifies to a tendency to associate past-life narratives to this event, which is similarly evident in the avadana transmitted in the Abhidharmakosopayika-tika. The case of the tale of Prince Long Life in some versions of the account of the KausambT quarrel illustrates a pattern where a parable meant for homiletic purposes becomes a past-life story of the Buddha. It remains open to question whether the same might explain the incident of addressing the community of monks as women cited by Samathadeva as an avadana connected to the KausambT quarrel.
Besides, the topic of the Abhidharmakosopayika-tikaA avadana can be related to the theme of the Buddha’s past bad karma and its effects to be felt in his last life, a theme especially prominent in literature of the Middle Period of Indian Buddhism, particularly evident within, but not limited to, the Mulasarvastivada tradition. Nevertheless, incidents involving an insult by addressing fellow monks as women leading to a change of sex are, as far as I know, unattested outside the Sarvastivada/Mulasarvastivada textual context. This includes not only Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakosa with its bhasya and the commentaries depending on them, including Yasomitra’s Sputartha Abhidharmakosavyakhya, Samathadeva’s Abhi- dharmakosopdyikd-tlka and the two Abhidharma commentaries by Sanghabhadra available in Chinese translation mentioned above, but also a wealth of other sources that I take into account in the following pages.
Now the avadana quotation simply shows that the bad karma of the Bodhisattva was reversed in the course of the aeon when he was pursuing the bodhisattva under the Buddha Ratnasikhin. The last verse of the stanza quoted by Samathadeva at the end of the avadana excerpt speaks of a mind imbued with confidence (presumably in the Buddha Ratnasikhin), which in my translation above I rendered with ‘faithful mind’ (sems rah dad pa yis). This is what effected the regaining of maleness, thus marking the final purification of the unwholesome karma in question in the presence of the former Buddha Ratnasikhin or through his medium.
This reference appears to be to the tale of a meeting of the Bodhisattva, who at that time appears as a woman, with a former Buddha, reported in a number of texts:211 a discourse in the Chinese translation of the Ekottarika-agama a story included the ‘Collection on the Six Perfections’ (AKMfe), and one of the chapters in the so-called ‘Scripture on the Wise and the Fool’, preserved in Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian translation. In another parallel version, the Padipadana-jataka of the Pannasa-jataka collection transmitted in Burma, the woman does not get to meet the Buddha in person but the story unfolds via the agency of a monk who functions as an intermediary. The woman is a princess in all versions except the ‘Collection on the Six Perfections’, where she is a destitute widow.
The Buddha of the past is named Ratnasikhin in the ‘Scripture on the Wise and the Fool’ and Porana Dipankara in the Padipadana-jataka? whereas he is not mentioned by name in the ‘Collection on the Six Perfections’. In the Ekottarika-agama discourse the name of the Buddha is represented with the pair of characters itO, the first of which is a standard Chinese rendering of ratna- ‘jewel’, and the second corresponds with the senses ‘storage’, ‘container’ etc. of Sanskrit garbha-, thus appearing to be a literal translation of Ratna- garbha. A Buddha by this name is often listed alongside Dipankara to form a lineage of nine (rather than the more common seven) Buddhas. In the Karunapundarika-sutra for example, a bodhisattva named Samudrarenu, who is to become the Buddha Sakyamuni in the future, makes a vow in front of the Buddha Ratnagarbha related to the duration of his
saddharma after his Parinirvana as a future Samyaksambuddha. In fact the same pair of characters appears alongside DTpankara and the seven former Buddhas also in another discourse in the same Ekottarika-agama, a collection known for the complex vicissitudes of its translation and its somewhat idiosyncratic renderings of Indic proper names. This discourse includes several Mahayana elements and signs of later development, in fact it may contain material that is not original to the Indic Ekottarika-agama collection on which the translation was ostensibly based. Thus in principle the name W O in the Ekottarika-agama story of the Buddha’s past life as a princess could be either an idiosyncratic rendering pointing to Ratna- sikhin, as attested in the other versions, or else represent Ratnagarbha, whose presence in cosmological schemas was already common at the time of the Indic transmission as well as Chinese translation of the Ekottarika-agama
Whereas in the Ekottarika-agama discourse, the ‘Collection on the Six Perfections’, the Chinese version of the ‘Scripture on the Wise and the Fool’ and the Padipadana-jataka the woman receives a prediction that in future she will be given a prediction to Buddhahood, in the Tibetan and Mongolian ‘Scripture on the Wise and the Fool’ she receives an actual prediction to Buddhahood, as the future Buddha Sakyamuni.
The motif of sex change appears in the Chinese version of the ‘Scripture on the Wise and the Fool’, where the woman protagonist is transformed into a male as soon as she receives a prediction from the former Buddha. The motif also recurs in the ‘Collection on the Six Perfections’, where she changes to male after having been supernaturally rescued from her attempted suicide by the Buddha, who then gives the ‘predicted prediction’ to Buddhahood to the woman who has now become a man. However, in the Tibetan and Mongolian ‘Scripture on the Wise and the Fool’ the woman does not undergo a change of sex. As a result, here a female receives the prediction to realise Buddhahood in the future.
In passing, the Padipadana-jataka remarks that the woman’s birth as female was the result of a previously performed unwholesome deed.’2 This karmic reading could simply voice a negative appraisal of female birth on the part of the compilers of the Padipadana- jataka that is evident throughout this version of the story, and it is difficult to determine if it should be considered an indirect reference to a specific past life of the woman as a man who committed the unwholesome deed in question, that is, the past life as the monk who insulted the monastic community as told in the Abhidharmakosopdyikd-tika The details in the Abhidharmakosopayika-tika version (name of the former Buddha encountered by the woman, called Ratnasikhin; change of sex under the former Buddha) do not allow to pinpoint a single close parallel among the versions mentioned so far. This seems to an extent natural with narrative materials being subject to variation, fluidity in transmission and cross-contamination. Nevertheless, it can be safely concluded that the Abhidharma- kosopdyikd-tlkdt implicitly cross-references to this story of the Buddha’s past life as a woman who receives a prediction to Buddhahood under the former Buddha Ratnasikhin and who thereby undergoes a change of sex upon receiving the prediction to Buddhahood.
Now according to the storyline of the avadana quotation in the Abhidharmakosopayika- tika, the Buddha-to-be’s transformation into woman and his five hundred successive female births take place after the commencement of the path of a bodhisattva, in that they occur after the arising of the thought of awakening, the bodhicitta, at the time when a Buddha by the name of Ajita had appeared in the world. The situation is reversed when the Bodhisattva changes back to male in the aeon he was practicing during the dispensation of the Buddha Ratnasikhin. This marks the end of the fruition of the negative karma committed by insulting the monks and at the same time brings the Bodhisattva one step closer to the gaining of his final birth and attainment of Buddhahood.
This turning point is also echoed by the great Prajnaparamita commentary generally known as *Mahdprajhdpdramitopadesa (A ft1 Mira), which in its periodisation of the career of Buddhas into specific time blocks states that, at the time of the Buddha Ratnasikhin, Sakyamuni became freed from rebirth as a female: ’ For the Buddha Sakyamuni, the first innumerable aeon goes from the former Buddha Sakyamuni to the Buddha Ratnasikhin. From that time on, the Bodhisattva was freed from all female births.
With permanent liberation from female birth the first period in a three-aeon long spiritual career came to its conclusion. A similar timeline is echoed by the Bodhisattvabhumi, The events recounted in the avadana quotation need to be positioned within the Buddhological map presupposed by the tradition underlying the Abhidharmakosabhdsya, bearing in mind that the existence of Buddhological debates even within the Sarvastivada and Mulasarvastivada scholastic traditions, let alone in comparison with those of other textual communities, advises against expecting unfailing consistency between models presupposed by stories and scholastic maps. In fact, rigorous uniformity is not to be sought when placing the voices of narratives in conversation with those of scholastic texts.
That being said, according to the map sketched in the Sarvastivada Abhidharmakosabhdsya, after the present Buddha Sakyamuni had made his initial resolution at the feet of the former Buddha by the same name, he then went on to render service and pay respect to seventy-five thousand Buddhas for the duration of an incalculable aeon, which culminated with the arising in the world of the Buddha Ratnasikhin. The Sakyamuni-to-be continued to render his service and pay respect to seventy-six thousand Buddhas for the duration of another incalculable aeon, which ended with the appearance of the Buddha DTpankara. Again, the Bodhisattva continued to render service and pay respect to seventy-seven thousand Buddhas for one more incalculable aeon, at the end of which the Buddha Vipasyin arose in the world.39 The account in the Bhaisajya-vastu of the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya is somewhat different. The names of the Buddhas to whom the Bodhisattva renders service are different, although the basic scheme of three aeons is the same as that in the Abhidharmakosabhasya and other sources.
A more significant hint for tracing the avadana quotation within a Mulasarvastivada canonical transmission comes from verses in the Bhaisajya-vastu of the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya that correspond with the stanzas quoted by Samathadeva.41 The lines are part of a series of stanzas spoken to Ananda in which the Buddha gives an exposition of when, in which way, and under how many Buddhas he had rendered service in former lives. Here the bad deed of calling monks women is the only case of past bad conduct, whereas all the other lines praise the good deeds of the Bodhisattva. In this genealogy of Buddhas, the Chinese version has Ratnasikhin, but the Tibetan *Indradhvaja or *Indradhvajamuni,42 and the former Buddha under whose dispensation the Bodhisattva had become learned in the Three Pitakas is named Aparajita ([[[sangs rgyas]]] gzhan gyis mi thul ba) in the Tibetan version and Ajita (.M:)i/?
Abhidharmakosabhasya on Abhidharmakosa IV.llOb-d (underlined), Pradhan 1967: 266,i2-267,i: yavat sarvasattvanam karmadhipatvena trisahasramahasahasrako toko ’bhinivartata ity apare. buddha eva ca tatparimanajha ity apare. atha bodhisattva bhiito bhagavan kiyato buddhan paryupasayam asa. prathame kalpasamkhyeye pahcasaptatisahasrani dvitive satsaptatim trtive saptasaptatim ... asamkhyeyatraydntyajdh vipasytdlpakrdratnasikhi. ratnasikhini samvaksambuddhe prathamo ’samkhyeyah samaptah. dipankare bhagavati dvitiyah. vipasyini tathagate trtiyah. sarvesdm tu tesam. sakyamunih pura. sakyamunir nama samyaksambuddhah piirvam babhuva. yatra bhagavata bodhisattvabhutenadyam pranidhanam krtam evamprakara evaham buddho bhaveyam iti; T 1559 at T XXIX 249b22-c5 and T 1558 at T XXIX 95aM-b3 (translated in de La Vallee Poussin 1980 : III 227-228; D 4090, mngon pa, ku. 220a5ldt and P 5590. mngon pa’i bstan bcos, gu, 257a5ldt). Cf. also. e.g.. the Vibhdsa treatise. T 1545 at T XXVII 892c9ldt. Sanghabhadra’s Abhidharma commentary in T 1562 at T XXIX 591a24-bn and the *Mahdprajhdpdramitopadesa referred to above, T 1509 at T XXV 87a4ldt (translated in Lamotte 1949: I 248-249). Wangchuk 2007: 100-102 observes that “if the Buddha-to-be had indeed accumulated all the prerequisites necessary for becoming a buddha during these three immeasurable aeons, he must have, according to the Abhidharmakosa. become a buddha sometime shortly thereafter. But since he is said to have become a buddha only much later, this would imply that there was an idle period of time during which he did not exert himself towards his awakening”. He further indicates that such an implication obviously posed a scholastic problem to the tradition, with different positions taken by different schools and exegetical perspectives.
D 1. 'dul ba, kha, 275bi_4 and P 1030, ’dul ba, ge, 254b6_8. The discrepancy has already been noted by Wangchuk 2007: 101, who observes that the presentation in the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya is identified by Dasa- balasnmitra as being that of the Sammitlya school. On the Sammitiyas see now Skilling 2016.
42 D 1, ’dul ba. kha, 275b3 and P 1030. ’dul ba, ge, 254b7: dbang po ’i rgyal mtshan thub pa for *Indradhvaja (as reconstructed in Yao 2013: 444 note 5) or *Indradhvajamuni (Wangchuk 2007: 101). and T 1448 at T XXIV ' ^2T. Ma-
[$£]) in Chinese, similar to mi pham ma for Ajita used in the Abhidharmakosopdyikd-tlkd?3 with the two names obviously referring to the same Buddha. Two distinct past Samyaksambuddhas by the name of Aparajita(dhvaja) and Ajita are known, if merely by name, from the Mahdvastu of the Mahasanghika-Lokottaravada Vinaya, where they appear side by side in the context of the Bahubuddhaka-siitra (II) listing of which particular Buddha in turn predicted which Buddha, a listing that parallels the just mentioned Buddhological genealogy in the Bhaisajya-vastu. The lineage of Buddhas is announced to Ananda by the present Buddha Sakyamuni, with the Buddha Aparajita being proclaimed by the Buddha Dhvaj amaparajita.4’ In the Bahubuddhaka-sutra (IB) of the same Mahdvastu, the Buddha recounts to Maudgalyayana that in the past he had rendered homage to the Buddha Dhvajamaparajita together with his community of disciples for an entire aeon.4b The Buddha Aparajitadhvaja also appears in the prologue to the Mahdvastu, the Niddnanamaskdra, where the life at the time of the Buddha Aparajitadhvaja covers the first period of the Bodhisattva’s planting the seeds of goodness (avaropitakusalamula) corresponding to the first cluster of deeds (cdryas) of his epochal career. Immediately after Aparajitadhvaja follows the former Sakyamuni, under whom the Bodhisattva’s first formulation of the aspiration to Buddhahood takes place according to this tradition.
From the Mahasanghika-Lokottaravada back to the Mulasarvastivada textual world, the Bhaisajya-vastu mentions the Bodhisattva’s lamp offering to the Buddha Ratnasikhin (a motif also found in the narrative counterparts mentioned above), but does not, however, explicitly connect it to the story of sex change. Moreover, the Bodhisattva as the donor to Ratnasikhin appears here as the son, not the daughter, of a king. A direct parallel to the Bhaisajya-vastu stanza that speaks of a king’s daughter’s (rather than of a king’s son) offering to the Buddha Ratnasikhin as the conclusion of the first aeon of the Bodhisattva’s epochal career is encapsulated in a Sanskrit verse written above a mural painting in cave temple no. 9 in Bazaklik, a settlement in the Greater Sarvastivada Tocharian-speaking region of Turfan In addition, a Tocharian manuscript fragment corresponding to the passage in the Bhaisajya- vastu verses includes two elements that are absent in the latter but present in the Abhidharma- kosopdyikd-tikd,s prose: the Bodhisattva’s birth as a woman for five hundred lives and the recovery of male sex through the Buddha Ratnasikhin.’
Interestingly, the set of stanzas in the Bhaisajya-vastu concludes with the footer “the ‘Chapter on Many Buddhas’ is completed” (sangs rgyas mangpo'i skabs rdzogs so)5X This clearly echoes the indication provided by Samathadeva after the prose excerpt from the avaddna by way of sourcing the subsequent stanzas: “The same is versified in a story in the "Avaddna of Many Buddhas’ (sangs rgyas mang po ’i rtogs pa brjod pa, *Bahubuddha- avaddma ?) of the Ksudraka". That is, Samathadeva was aware of and quoting from at least two sources: an unnamed prose source (an avaddna transmitted within the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya corpus ?) and a *Bahubuddha-avaddna (?) of the Ksudraka in verse. The nature of the relationship between the Bhaisajya-vastuA ‘Chapter on Many Buddhas’ and the "Avaddna of Many Buddhas’ in the Ksudraka cannot be established. However, as seen above, the existence of both prose and verse references to the story is firmly attested in a range of texts circulating within Mulasarvastivada communities. In conclusion, the textual network that emerges from the juxtaposition of the sources surveyed in the foregoing pages reflects a diversity of environments where the story cited in the Abhidharmakosopayika-tlkd and the Buddhological model it presupposes were known. Such network puts the framing of the tale as an avaddna into a broader textual horizon. In fact, the circulation of the tale of the past life of the Buddha as a woman and her change of sex within the Sarvastivada or, more precisely, Mulasarvastivada world, have long been noted, respectively, by Liiders (1913) and Huber (1914: 9-14).
Avadanas are basically multi-life stories of the Bodhisattva’s path, belonging to the genre of ‘literatures of the path’, whose production and circulation increased exponentially in the course of the Middle Period of Buddhism in India. A keen interest in such literature of the path is a key feature of the Ksudraka (or Khuddaka) collections, which include discourses of the Buddha on his past deeds, the previous births of the Bodhisattva as well as various forms of praise of the Buddha. Tradition itself was aware of this feature of the Ksudraka: Sakyamuni’s course as a Bodhisattva across the three incalculable aeons prior to the achievement of supreme awakening is expressly mentioned as the focus of the Ksudraka- pitaka in the Chinese commentary on the Ekottarika-agama (ff'f ‘ T 1507) and its
literary antecedent, the ‘Narrative of the Compilation of the Three Pitakas and of the Ksudraka-pitaka'’ (JflJftiT 2026), an account of the First SangTti relating the recitation on that occasion of the Tripitaka and of a Ksndraka-pitaka In other words, the possibility that the Ksudraka mentioned by Samathadeva is to be understood as a canonical collection (pi laka or agama) rather than a scriptural division of a Mulasarvastivada Vinaya is an attractive one, but far from proven. To remain instead within the world of the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya, I now briefly look at the theme of change of sex - central to the avadana storyline - in that context.
The Vinaya context
In a Vinaya context, discussions of change of sex have a part to play in relation to the legal and ritual acts of the sangha, that is, the ordination ritual and protocols related to admission into the monastic community and the observance of its monastic rules. Instances of spontaneous sexual metamorphosis are on record not only in Sarvastivada/Mulasarvastivada Vinaya literature but also, for example, in the Theravada commentarial tradition. Petra Kieffer- Piilz’s (2018) contribution to this volume studies sex change in Buddhist legal literature, thus I refer the reader to her article for a more technical discussion.
Suffice it to say, for my present purpose, that the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya does not appear to attach any negative moral judgement to the phenomenon of change of sex, which is not dealt with from a karmic perspective in the sense of being described in terms of the result of good or bad deeds. A similar pattern is observable in the Theravada Vinaya, which dispenses with a gendered evaluation when presenting the loss of the female characteristic and its replacement with a male characteristic, without crediting the former to bad and the latter to good karma, whereas a different position characterises the Theravada commentarial and narrative traditions. The topic of sex change becomes especially prominent in the context of the Sarvastivada/Mulasarvastivada Indo-Tibetan monastic traditions. In general, such discussions of change of sex occur at the interface, as it were, between Vinaya and Abhidharma on account of the relationship established in Sarvastivada/Mulasarvastivada Vaibhasika metaphysics between the notion of the subtle material form known as ‘un-manifest’ or ‘non-informative’ materiality (avijnaptirupa) and the taking on and commitment to the monastic rule, notably the pratimoksa.
The undertaking of the pratimoksa is classified as related to one out of three kinds of avijnaptirupa. Such a special type of avijnaptirupa comes into being when an individual first accepts the monastic discipline and it lasts in the mental continuum until the person either gives it up, passes away or, according to some sources, undergoes a spontaneous change of sex. It confers what is conceived of as serial karmic continuity, called anubandha or pravaha, to monastic precepts in the mind of the monk or the nun. Here Greene (2016: 114-116) has made the important point that “[a]lthough scholars have often understood it as a device for explaining karmic continuity, aviijnapti-karma (and
hence aviijnapti-rupaj was not posited by Sarvastivada sources as a general solution to the problem of karma (other theories, notably the theory of the existence of dharmas in the three times, fulfilled that role). Rather, the original motivation for aviijnapti-karma, and the most important area where it was discussed in later sources, was as an explanation of the power of samvara, moral or disciplinary restraint. ... Given its early use as an explanation for the ontology of certain kinds of nondoing, it is not surprising that aviijnapti-karma was eventually invoked in the context of sila, the precepts. Indeed the precepts, both monastic and lay, are precisely an elaboration of the parts of the eightfold path connected to outward behaviour-right speech, action, and livelihood (mental action by itself is never a violation of the precepts). Within later Sarvastivada thought, it was as an explanation of the ontology of sila (discussed under the category of samvara, ‘restraint’) that aviijnapti-karma, and hence aviijnapti-rupa, would become most important”.
For instance, the Pancaskandhabhasya lists among the reasons for giving up the various kinds of discipline based on the monastic rule (pratimoksasamvara) the occurrence of the male or female organ, since then the pratimoksa of the other sex would become the one to be followed.00 However, according to the position taken in the Abhidharmakosabhasya, a change in the sexual characteristic (lihgaj^ simply leads to the modification of the gender in that a monk (bhiksti) becomes a nun (bhiksunT) or vice versa a nun becomes a monk, but it is not the case that a person, by changing his or her sex, abandons the former discipline and acquires a new one. The change of sex is therefore not seen as amounting to the loss of the respective pratimoksa or, by implication, of the avijnaptirupa that accompanies it. In this respect, the pratimoksa of both orders, male and female, are considered identical.
Now the legal act of consenting to the establishment of the ordination candidate in the holy life, the brahmacaryopasthdnasamvrti, is according to the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya a necessary step in the ordination procedure. Here the term samvrti ‘allowance; agreement; consent’, was customarily translated into Tibetan by the term sdompa, which also carries the sense of ‘vow’.6’ It seems to me that this new notion of a ‘vow’ marks a shift from a legal and ritual understanding of ordination acts to a metaphysical level of
understanding, which is the way monastic ordination is generally conceptualised in the living Mulasarvastivada tradition to this day. A ‘precept vow’ is conferred and upheld in lieu of a simpler notion of admittance into and belonging to a voluntary community on the basis of a personal and communal agreement to abide by a set of rules. It remains open to question whether the cardinal importance of a set of vows received through an initiation (samaya) in the Indo-Tibetan Vajrayana textual and religious traditions contributed to this development. Be that as it may, the notion of avijhaptirupa and avijhaplikarma in relation to the pratimoksasamvara and hence the karmic consequences of breaking vows appear to stretch beyond the legal or procedural aspects of Vinaya jurisprudence into the territory of metaphysics. This might well be the reason why the philosophical and legal consequences of a change of sex became indeed an object of much debate in the Indo-Tibetan scholastic tradition, a debate that falls outside my present topic.
All the same, the story of a monk’s change of sex - be it originally transmitted in a canonical avadana collection or as an avadana in the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya - could have been put to use in the context of monastic education to exemplify the case of a spontaneous change of sex. Whereas the Abhidharmakosabhasya and its related commentaries simply mention the sex change episode as illustrations of the scholastic notion of presently effective karmic retribution, the Abhidharmakosopdyika-tika stands out for framing the incident as an avadana, a framing that results in the Bodhisattva undergoing a change of sex to female after he had embarked on his multi-life journey to Buddhahood. In what follows I draw attention to the significance of the sex change element in relation to ‘gendered’ karma and soteriology, firstly focusing on the motif of the (unwelcome) change of sex to female and then, by way of conclusion, on what this motif implies in relation to the path of the Bodhisattva.
The (unwelcome) change of sex to female as an illustration of presently effective karma: a gendered evaluation? Far from being a Buddhist innovation, the motif of sex change is widespread in Indian and worldwide folklore. Evidence ranges from metamorphoses during a specific lifetime to the taking on of a different sex upon being reborn, with instances featured in mythological and homiletic contexts.04 Nearly a century ago Brown (1927) proposed a basic threefold categorisation of change of sex in Indian literature that, from the viewpoint of the person who undergoes such a change, can be classified into:
(a) unexpected and unwelcome (for example, a man becomes a woman in consequence of a curse or an impious thought or from bathing in an enchanted pool); (b) unexpected and welcome (for example, by chance zyaksa is found who is willing to exchange sex with a woman, or else a pool is accidentally discovered that converts a female into a male); (c) expected and welcome (for example, by deliberate propitiation a yaksa is made willing to exchange sex with a woman, or else a magical pill is used or an act of asseveration of truth is performed to obtain a change of sex).
The case of the monk’s change into a female in the Abhidharmakosopayika-tikd and other texts seen above would fit within the first category (unexpected and unwelcome). In this connection, “it is interesting to note the acceptance by the literature without argument that a change from woman to man is always desirable while the reverse is always undesirable” in Indian literature. A change of sex to male is considered as advantageous and progressive in numerous traditional folktales worldwide. This is natural as, in patriarchal societies, becoming a man obviously signals an upgrade in socio-economic position and prestige. Indian Buddhist discourse also reflects the same idea that a change from a female to a male body is indeed desirable, whereas the opposite is typically seen as negative (with specific exceptions to the rule).
The key doctrinal interest in the Abhidharmakosabhdsya context where sex change is given as an illustration lies in the mechanics of presently effective karmic retribution. The technical term drstadharmavedaniya (cf. also its Pali equivalent ditthadhammavedamya) qualifies an action or a fruit to be felt or experienced (yedaniya) by having as a basic principle (dharma, Pali dhamma) the fact that it is ‘seen’ (drsta, Pali dillha), the reference to seeing conveys a sense of “immediacy”.
A concept to a degree related to presently effective karmic retribution is that of the five anantaryakarmas, grave moral lapses with immediate retribution. These derive their name from the idea that their effect - rebirth in hell - makes itself felt immediately at the breakup of the body at the end of the present lifetime, without any possibility of one or more intermediate births prior to the ripening of the evil karma as existence in hell. For instance, to cause a split within the sangha is one of the actions included in this fivefold list. The sangha epitomises the specific or distinctive nature or quality of the field (ksetravisesa) with respect to which the karma is performed, as discussed in the Abhidharmakosabhdsya passage excerpted above. Thus to harbour ill will and speak offensively towards the sangha of a Buddha is chosen as a paradigmatic example for presently effective karmic repercussion.
Although to revile one’s co-monastics is of course not necessarily schismatic in intention, the attitude behind such reviling could pave the way to splits in the community and therein to one of the five heinous crimes. It is educationally apt that the story in the Abhidharmakosopayika-tikd should describe a monk’s inability to restrain himself during a conflict with other monks, a pattern that recurs with the KausambT dispute. The verbally insinuating monk was a learned reciter of the Tripitaka, but nevertheless he was expelled by a monk reciter of the sutras so as to settle the litigation. In other words, the conceit of being learned (but unwise) can lead to dogmatism,™ which is in turn a precursor to quarrels and disputes in the community. This is so grave a matter that even the Buddha himself is still receiving the effects of such an attitude.
An additional karmic thread is perhaps worthy of note: given that the matter of contention at KausambT were minor aspects of the Vinaya, the detail in the Abhidharmakosa- vydkhya that the insulting monk had been defeated in a legal procedure is particularly relevant. If read in conjunction with the avadana in the Abhidharmakosopayika-tika, it connects the past-life of the Buddha as a monk angered in relation to points of Vinaya directly to the KausambT dispute. Yet another parallelism that comes to mind is that in both litigations the Buddha’s voice is not heard. In the past, when he was a monk, he was expelled; in the present case, when he is the actual legislator of the Vinaya, his monks just ignore him.
Also, the somewhat arrogant speech of calling others women returns by way of contrappasso when one of the KausambT monk tells him to rather leave the business of the dispute to them. In a discourse version of the KausambT litigation in the Madhyama-agama (a collection transmitted within a Sarvastivada context) some of the monks who have just heard what the Buddha had tried to say - inviting them to exercise restraint, be patient and join in harmony - tell him, the master of the Dharma, to stop talking, and argue that since those of the opposite faction are telling them what to do they are likewise entitled to tell them what to do. In a parallel in the Majjhima-nikaya it is just one monk who up to three times says to the Buddha, that he should rather live at ease devoted to a pleasant abiding here and now, for they are the ones who will be responsible for the quarrelling and dispute. A parallel passage in the Kosambaka-kkhandhaka of the Theravada VinayaA Mahavagga qualifies this monk as an adhammavadl, one who does not speak in conformity with the Dhamma.
A version in the Kosambaka-vastu of the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya also features multiple monks who address the Buddha together, as in the Madhyama-agama? In a third discourse parallel found in the Ekottarika-agama the group of monks similarly tell the Buddha not to concern himself with the matter at hand. In the first case, when the Buddha was a monk, he is seemingly asserting his position to the point that the other monks ejected him, at which he somewhat self- righteously reacts by comparing them to women. In the second case, the scenario is quite the opposite. In spite of the Buddha being the law-maker, no heed is paid to him. Instead of asserting his own absolute right to settle the dispute or issuing a new rule to silence the monks, he goes away and leaves the quarrelsome sangha behind.
Returning to the motif of change of sex to a female as a form of immediate fruition of bad karma, this is also found in the Soreyyatthera-vatthu, the ‘Story of the Elder Soreyya’ in the Dhammapada-atthakathd, the Pali commentary on the canonical stanzas of the Dhamma- pada collection transmitted by the Theravada tradition. The main topic of the Soreyyatthera- vatthn is the story of a double change of sex from male to female and back to male in the same lifetime. This happened to a layman who had had thoughts of passion towards an eminent monk disciple of the Buddha, the venerable Mahakaccayana. In the story, the merchant Soreyya, seeing the elder Mahakaccayana’s golden-hued skin, had the impure wish that the elder become his wife or that the skin of his wife’s body become as attractive as that of the elder’s body.
The merchant instantly becomes a woman, now known by the name of Soreyya. Eventually, Soreyya regrets having had such lustful feelings and, through the kind offices of a former friend to whom she discloses her previous identity, obtains a chance to beg the elder’s pardon, which the monk readily grants. As soon as the elder utters his words of pardon, Soreyya is transformed back into Soreyya. As is only natural with narrative genre, the Soreyyatthera-vatthn does not contain any explicit scholastic statement to the effect that the sex change is to be understood as an instance of presently effective karmic retribution, yet this notion appears to be presupposed by the turn of events. This time the action in question is of a merely mental rather than verbal type as in the case of the Abhidharmakosopdyikd-ilka s avaddna. In the Soreyyatthera-vatthu the karmic field that receives the action is also outstanding in that it is constituted by an individual who is not only a member of the Buddha’s monastic community but who is also one of the Buddha’s eminent disciples, and presumably assumed by the text to be already an arhat at that time, thus at the highest position in the sangha of the noble ones.
As mentioned above, a central purpose of avadanas/apadanas is didactic: “to explore, within a particular Buddhist framework, the doctrine that good actions based on good intentions bring about good results and bad actions based on bad intentions bring about bad results”. A normative exposition on karma such as is found in the fourth chapter of the Abhi- dharmakosabhasya - even if it comes with many technicalities - remains, in essence, an exposition of moral philosophy. It thus has practical relevance to the making of moral choices and thereby it serves an educational purpose. In fact, as noted by Esposito (2013: 506), stories about change of sex in Jain and Buddhist texts have less of the humorous element often found in such stories in early Indian literature and have more prominently a didactic motivation.
Now literary and iconographic karmavibhahgas, ‘classifications’ and therein ‘elucidations’ of karma, flourished copiously throughout the Buddhist world. The reward of a particular intentional action manifesting in the form of a result either closely similar (positive analogy) or diametrically opposite (negative analogy) is analysed and exemplified in detail in the exposition on karmic relationships in various versions of the discourse on karma- vibhanga, an early Buddhist text that stands out for having an
exceptionally high number of parallels preserved in a variety of languages. The popularity of this text must be due to its function in the service of Buddhist homiletics. The illustration of the workings of karma by means of a change of sex is informed by the same karmavibhanga logic. Thus, for example, the Buddha explains that when a man or a woman is given to injuring beings, if after death they come back to the human state, they suffer from poor health. This is because of having undertaken such injuring actions. If not reborn in the human plane of existence, they are bound to reappear in a state of deprivation. Conversely, those who abstain from injuring beings, if they come back to the human state are healthy. If not reborn in the human world, they reappear in a heavenly realm.
Notably, rebirth as a woman is conspicuously absent in all the parallel versions of the discourse on karmavibhanga. This gives “the impression that sex was considered only incidental to the question of rebirth at the time when the different versions of this discourse came into existence and reached their present form”.
Thus, although the story of change of sex and its underlying mechanics of retribution is consistent with the principle of karmic reward that is laid down in the karmavibhanga chart of karmic relationships, it is notable that, at least from the perspective of the discourse on karmavibhanga, sex at birth is not selected as a significant token of negative or positive reward. Other conditions such as poverty, obscurity, sickness etc. are recognised as inherently unfortunate and thus an ‘objective’ result of negative karma - of course open to future change and improvement, which is after all what these texts try to facilitate. This is not the case with female birth.
Yet, on reading the avadana, the question suggests itself: is a gendered evaluation of karma implicitly or explicitly suggested? Is there a clearly ‘gendered’ perceptive component to the way the unwholesome mental state finds its verbal outlet? Does the bad karma rewarded through an obviously unwanted change to female and an ensuing cycle of female births assume an intrinsic negative evaluation of female birth as such?
The change of sex does not in my opinion really require a ‘karmic evaluation’ of gender in and of itself in order to effectively advocate a principle of karmic retribution. The main point at stake are the dynamics of retribution and the connection between the main ‘ingredient’ of the insult and its repercussions on the offender. The teaching seems to be on the ‘how’ of the type of karma in operation (presently effective retribution), illustrated by the ‘what’ (sex change): the change of sex is a case in point to illustrate a direct relationship between a certain verbal behaviour - a resentful remark - and its reward.
At the same time, for the illustration to work and the story to fulfil its moral task, the text must rely on certain assumptions shared by its audience. In other words, the story needs to make sense to the audience’s cognitive suppositions to work. In the present case, firstly, given that from an Indian viewpoint the possibility of sex change is taken for granted, as a ‘fact’, the episode of sexual transformation will quite probably be perceived by its intended audience as factual. Secondly, the idea of referring to the behaviour of a group of men (monks here) as being similar to that of women must be able to serve the purpose of conveying the desired message. The monk in question appears to
consider the group of fellow monastics who had excluded him on account of their lack of courage to actually confront him, as similar to women. Thus a gendered evaluation is implied at least to the extent that an unwholesome action is associated with a change of sex to female and the monk’s outburst implies a perception of women’s behaviour as lacking courage. Such a notion could express perceived biological differences or else have its root in the environment, in culture, in social upbringing or in one’s education - a process called ‘gendered socialisation’ in feminist studies. The text seems to implicitly adhere to an understanding of behavioural differences on the basis of ‘biology’, yet an awareness of a substantial difference between biological sex and culturally understood gender does not seem to be present.82'
To summarise, the Abhidharmakosabhasya and its commentaries portray the way of acting of the monk who calls the others women (sahghastnvadasamuddcdra') as a specific act of (bad) karma involving a resentful mind and an act of offensive speech. The offensive utterance is coloured by a (sociocultural) judgement that is informed by a gendered cliche. Due to the fact that it is directed at the satigha, an exceptional karmic field, it meets with immediate maturation. Although it does rely on stereotyping, the text does not seem to assume an essentialised notion of womanhood, to be characterised in intrinsic terms. The very fact that sex change into and out of femaleness can occur is the opposite of any ‘essential’ immutability.
In Indian Buddhist thought, being subject to samsdra implies the going through many forms of existence and thus taking births of different sex, for “there are no men who were not women formerly or women who were not men”,8b since sex at birth is not given as immutable throughout the cycle of rebirth but is subject to change. Thus the motif of sex change within the same lifetime “shows that one’s sex was not seen as something immutably fixed, but rather as something fluid, depending on conditions and circumstances”.
At the same time, overall sex consistency across lifetimes (and in each lifetime) seems to be presupposed by most of the texts of the Indian religious traditions. As a generalisation, there appears to be consistency in this respect unless a specific event disrupts it. For instance, in the literature on the bodhisattva path, the soteriological turning point consisting in the attainment of a prediction for Buddhahood has the power of effecting an irreversible change of sex to male. This is because, at least from a certain layer of textual development onwards, the dogmatics of the bodhisattva path necessitate that a confirmed bodhisattva must be male: this requires maleness at birth in the present lifetime or is to be signaled by a change of sex to male.
According to Appleton’s (2012: 171) preliminary results of her comparative studies of Buddhist and Jain birth stories, “it is striking that changes in gender between births are considerably more common in Jain sources than in Buddhist ones. In many cases, the change of gender is not directly linked to an action, but rather appears simply as part of a chaotic series of births. ... However, not all Jain stories portray changing gender as simply a part of the generally unpredictable and unstable process of rebirth. Apart from the many stories that show other changes - in species, realm of rebirth, and relationships - whilst portraying gender as stable, there are several in which a specific type of
action is said to result in a man being reborn as a woman ... clearly [indicating] that female birth results from certain negative karma ... However, in the wider context of Jain narrative, in which changing from male to female and animal and human and back again is an accepted fact of life, I would argue that stories of sex-change ... hold less weight than their Buddhist equivalents”. She further reasons that the soteriological irrelevance of gender to the attainment of liberation is an ideal shared by Buddhist and Jain sources, yet it appears to be demonstrated in a different way by the Jains, namely “through the apparently causeless and unpredictable changes that affect a variety of characters ... Ironically, the gentle continuity of gender in Buddhist rebirth stories allows for the interpretation that sex-change, when it happens, is a dramatic event, and, therefore, that female birth is dramatically worse than male birth”, with far-reaching consequences in later Buddhist gender soteriology.
In connection to this, Analayo (2017a: 129-131) has pointed to the result of the requirements of narrative consistency and cohesion when tales from the ancient Indian narrative repertoire were incorporated in the multi-life biography of the Bodhisattva. The journeys through a very large number and diversity of births that exhibit all kinds of variations, comprising even episodes involving animal existences, would be strung together as a single path by sex consistency. This would supply a token of continuity, a narrative stabiliser. In particular, Analayo suggests that when incorporating various tales with male protagonists from the ancient Indian narrative repertoire, the maleness of the protagonists of these stories would have naturally served as a stable characteristic. In the process of identifying one of the protagonists of the various tales as a former existence of the Buddha, a male figure would be the most obvious candidate. This then becomes a normative script for future generations of aspirant bodhisattvas who strive for Buddhahood as well as for the hagiography of the deeds of past Buddhas due to the tendency of texts to apply events in the life of the present Buddha to all previous Buddhas in the lineage.
As a rule, Wangchuk (2007: 101) explains, “the generation of initial resolve is no guarantee of a successful bodhisattva career. There is always the chance that a bodhisattva will suffer a relapse. Thus depending on the bodhisattva's faculties (indriya), the irreversibility is said to be as follows: a bodhisattva of the first calibre is irreversible from the moment the initial resolution is made; a bodhisattva of medium calibre, from the path of seeing (darsanamarga) onwards, and a bodhisattva of lesser calibre only from the eighth stage (bhumf) onwards”. Naturally the Bodhisattva would rank as of the first calibre, thus coursing irreversibly from the moment he made his initial resolution to become a Buddha. From the perspective of Samathadeva (and his source) the Bodhisattva’s change to female, after having made his resolve to Buddhahood, does not pose any Buddhological problem, nor does it hamper the unfolding of his bodhisattva career. The change of sex and the following cycle of female births is regarded as acceptable, with no indication of a major ‘relapse’ of the Bodhisattva on his path - other than having committed an unwholesome and censurable action that is eventually remedied.
The tradition of the Abhidharmakosopdyika-tika adumbrates the first phase in the Mulasarvastivada depiction of the epochal career of the Bodhisattva that begins with the first cittotpada as he encounters the former Buddha Sakyamuni and ends with his last birth as a female in the lifetime of the Buddha Ratnasikhin. Some versions of the stories that detail such an important occasion, such as the avadana in question, negotiate the requirement of maleness by introducing a change of sex back to male at this very juncture, upon receiving the formal prediction to Buddhahood, whereas others postpone it to the immediately successive birth.
The Bodhisattva’s femaleness in the Abhidharmakosopdyikd-dkd (and elsewhere), assumed at the time of the former Buddha Ajita after the initial resolution to Buddhahood is made, and left behind at the time of the former Buddha Ratnasikhin, seems to be presented somewhat fluidly and neutrally once it is read against the Buddhological map that it presupposes.
Here it would appear that being born as or changing to female - while a Bodhisattva is in mid-career - is possible. But elsewhere - in other Middle-Period narratives transmitted across different traditions, and in the mainstream fully-fledged bodhisattva literature of the Mahayana - this is not thought of as possible. The Pali narrative tradition, for example, does not record any sexual transformation of the Bodhisatta, and the Pali commentarial tradition represented by the commentary to the Dhammasahgam and the commentary to the Apadana does not allow sex change in its enumeration of eighteen different states of existence in which bodhisattvas who have received the final prediction are not to be reborn. Interestingly, in this context no mention is explicitly made of female birth as such, although the Apadana commentary lists the non-obtaining of female birth among the gains of bodhisattvahood elsewhere, in a passage glossing the gain of the male sexual characteristic (lihgasampatti). The passage expands on a stanza found in the Buddhavamsa and it appears, identical in wording, in several other Pali commentaries. Besides, the impossibility of obtaining the state of existence “of one whose sex changes” (nassa lingam parivattatf) does not seem to necessarily refer to change from male to female, which is not directly suggested by the other items that are enumerated. At least theoretically, this leaves the possibility open that this list does not concern itself with female birth at all.
According to a position recorded in non-canonical Sarvastivada Abhidharma works, it is not possible for a male who has attained the noble path (dryamdrga) to be reborn as a female. Now the Abhidharmakosabhdsya states that the four stages of penetrating insight (nirvedha- bhagiyas) can be attained by both women and men.91 The fourth is a single moment of insight and the highest state possible for an ordinary worldling that marks the last stage in the preparatory path (prayogamdrga) of both srdvakas and bodhisattvas and is immediately followed by a direct vision of the four noble truths in sixteen aspects, which corresponds to the path of seeing (darsanamdrgd). Although according to the
Abhidharmakosabhdsya this stage of insight is attainable both as a woman or a man, from that point onward a male practitioner will no longer be reborn as a female." The Abhidharmakosavyakhyd explicitly states that, once the darsanamdrga has been attained, one cannot be reborn as a woman: “the female condition does not manifest again for one who has seen the [four noble] truths”. The *Mahavibhasa explains that the development that ensues after the fourth mrvedhabhctglyci requires being born with a male body, because the female body is inferior. Elsewhere the *Mahavibhasd clarifies that the noble path cannot be developed in dependence on the inferior female body." Thus a male sravaka who has entered the darsanamarga will no longer take a female rebirth by dint of having attained the fourth nirvedabhdglya. This parallels the condition of a bodhisattva who, with the achievement of the first bhiimi, leaves behind the possibility of further rebirths as a woman.
The proposal that with the attainment of the first level of awakening female birth is left behind is alien to early Buddhist soteriology; it is in fact not listed among the states of existence that become impossible upon attaining the first level of awakening. Thus this tenet appears to be the result of a specific scholastic development in the Sarvastivada Abhidharma traditions, which departs from the earlier idea of the irrelevance of gender to the spiritual progress of a noble disciple. What to make of such a perception from the viewpoint of karmic relationships and gender? In general, a position common across the Indian Abhidharma traditions views the female
body as relatively inferior compared to the male body. This does not imply, however, that all female bodies are the fruition of inferior karma when compared with all male bodies. A female body is (overall) seen as the result of comparatively minor bad karma or else comparatively inferior-grade good karma (given that human birth is of course the result of very good karma in general). Such an assessment of femaleness versus maleness involves a relative component (femaleness is inferior relatively speaking). To inhabit a female body is arguably, at least on average, an unfortunate and lower condition in early and medieval India, which accounts for considering it, generally speaking, less desirable. Thus, from a socio-cultural perspective, a stream-entrant (or a once-retumer) bom as a female would stand comparatively higher chances of being subject to a state of external deprivation and other difficulties.
In conclusion, returning to the Bodhisattva’s femaleness in the Abhidharmakosopdyika- tika (and elsewhere), assumed at the time of the former Buddha Ajita after the initial resolution to Buddhahood is made (to be left behind at the time of the former Buddha Ratnasikhin), here it appears that being born as or changing to female for a Bodhisattva in mid-career is possible. But elsewhere - in other Middle-Period narratives transmitted across different traditions and in the mainstream fully-fledged bodhisattva literature of the Mahayana - this is not envisaged as being possible.
The Bodhisattva’s femaleness in the Abhidharmakosopdyikd-tika and related sources seems to be presented somewhat fluidly and neutrally once it is read against the Buddholog- ical map that it presupposes. It is no more and no less than one of the well signposted steps in the epochal career that unfolds of its own accord, something of an incidental state of existence as the path proceeds closer to the prediction to Buddhahood and, finally, the present Buddha Sakyamuni’s final birth.Appendix: Text of Up 4069 References: C, mngon pa,ju 232b2-233a5; D 4094. mngon pa,ju 232b3-233a5: G 3598, mzod ’grel, tu 348ai-349ai; N, mngon pa, tu 256b2-257a6; P 5595, mngon pa'i bstan bcos. tu 265b5-266bi; Si-T 3323, mngon pa,ju 567n-5692 (with apparatus in vol. 161 p. 737).
The scribal peculiarities of the Golden manuscript Tanjur (e.g., nyamasu for nyams su, zhabasu for zhabs su etc.) are not indicated. ji ltar dge slong gi dge ’dun la bud med ces [bijod pa zhes]1 bya ba la | gang gi tshe bcom ldan 'das kyi gsung [kau sam bT] pa’i 'dge ' slong mams [kyisIui lan gsum gyi bar du phyir [bzlog]lv pa dang | de'i tshe dge slong mams kyis the tshom thams cad gcod par mdzad pa sangs rgyas bcom ldan ’das la zhus pa | de bzhin gshegs pas phrin las ci zhig mdzad nas las de’i mam par smin 'pas1' bcom ldan ’das kyis dge ba’i gsung | phan pa’i gsung | gzung bar [’oslvi pa’i tshig dag kyang kau sam bi pa’i dge slong mams kyis lan gsum gyi bar du phyir bzlog | bcom ldan ’das kyis bka' stsal [pa]vn | dge slong dag de bzhin gshegs pa nyid kyis te | sngon gzhan gyis byas shing bsags pa dag gzhan [su]viu zhig gis nyams su myong [bar1LX ’gyur [balx zhes bya ba nas | lus can mams la 'bras bur smin '||]xi zhes bya ba’i bar du’o || dge slong dag sngon byung ba ’das pa’i dus na de bzhin gshegs pa dgra bcom pa yang dag par rdzogs pa'i sangs rgyas rig pa dang zhabs su ldan pa | bde bar gshegs pa '||xu ’jig rten mkhyen pa [|]xm bla na med pa [|lxiv skyes bu ’dul zhing kha lo sgyur ba | lha dang mi mams kyi ston pa sangs rgyas bcom ldan ’das yang dag par rdzogs pa’i sangs rgyas [ma]xv pham pa zhes bya ba ’jig rten du byung ste | de’i tshe na nga byang chub sems dpa’i [[[spyad]] palxvi spyod de phyug po’i bur gyur te | bla na med pa’i byang chub tu sems bskyed cing rab tu byung ngo || rab tu byung nas sde snod gsum par gyur to || de nas dge slong gi dge ’dun la rtsod pa byung [stelxv“ | des rtsod pa de cher ’phel bar byas so || ji tsam na dge slong mdo [sdelxv111 ’dzin pa zhig gis de bton nas rtsod pa de zhi bar byas pa dang | [des bud]xix med mams kyi rtsod pa zhi bar byas sam zhes dge slong gi dge ’dun la bud med ces 'smras so]xx || ngag gi nyes par [spyadlxxi pa des de’i skyes pa’i dbang po nub cing bud med kyi dbang po byung bar gyur cing skye ba Inga brgyar bud med du skyes shing yang dag par rdzogs pa’i sangs rgyas rin chen gtsug tor can gyis de’i bud med kyi dngos po bzlog cing skyes pa’i dngos po thob par [byas so]xxu || nga nyid de’i tshe de'i dus na phyug po'i bur gyur cing byang chub sems dpa’i spyad pa spyod pa na sde snod [lxxi“ gsum par gyur kyang ngas dge ’dun la ngag [gi]xxiv nyes par spyod pa [smras]xxv pas las de’i rgyus kau [sam bT]xxvi pa’i dge slong mams kyis lan gsum gyi bar du [nga'i]xxvu tshig phyir bzlog go | ’di nyid phran tshegs las sangs rgyas mang po'i rtogs pa brjod par [tshigs]xxvui XXLX su bead par byas te | de nas sangs rgyas mi pham pa’i || sngon byung sde snod gsum par gyur [||lxxx dge slong dge ’dun rtsod pa na [||Ixxxl dge ’dun [budIxxxn med ces brjod pa’i || [[[ngag]]]xxxiu gi nyes par spyad byas pas || bud med nyid du nye bar song || slar yang sems rab [dad]xxxiv pa vis || skyes pa’i dngos po nyid du gyur [||]xxxv zhes gsungs so [||Ixxxvi
Ap-a Apadana-atthakatha As Atthasaliril Be Burmese edition (Chattha Sangayana Tripitaka 4.0. Vipassana Research Institute) Bv-a Buddhavamsa-atthakatha C Cone edition CBETA Chinese Buddhist Electronic Text Association CS Chattha Sangayana Tripitaka 4.0, Vipassana Research Institute D Derge edition (Tohoku) Dhp Dhammapada Dhp-a Dhammapada-atthakatha EA Ekottarika-agama (T 125) Ee European edition (Pali Text Society) G Golden Tanjur edition Ja Jataka-atthavannana or Jataka-atthakatha MA Madhyama-agama (T 26) MN Majjhima-nikaya N Narthang edition P Peking edition (Otani) Pj Paramatthajotika (I) (Suttanipata-atthakatha) SA Samyukta-agama (T 99) Si-T dPe bsdur ma (‘Sichuan’) Tanjur edition SN Samyutta-nikaya Sp Samantapasadika Sv-pt Sumangalavilasim-puranatika (Dighanikayatthakatha-tika) T Taisho edition (CBETA, 2014) ult ulterior, following Up Abhidharmakosopayika-fikd (Updyika) Vv-a Vimanavatthu-atthakatha Vin I'inayapitaka
Vism-mt Visuddhimagga-mahatika (ed. Marammaratthe Buddhasasana Society, 2008) Note When quoting text editions I have adjusted the sandhi, punctuation, capitalisation etc. and simplified some of the text-critical conventions for the sake of consistency and ease of reference.
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